In the Press

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You were born and raised in Baghdad. What was life like under Saddam?

Life under the dictatorship was very restraining and stressful. As any other dictatorship, everyone, regardless of their stand on the regime, had to follow its rules and restrictions. Everyday life was affected by the decisions of the dictator for better or worse, for good or bad. When he decided to go to war, everyone had to support the decision. From a musician’s standpoint, musical compositions and songs had to support the cause regardless of whether or not the individual supported the conflict. The entire cultural sector was affected. An artist’s work in any field had to support the regime, continuously acting against what the average citizen believed in. Nobody felt safe either. Everyone was at risk of torture and/or execution, even if an individual did follow the dictator’s instruction. Everyone was under suspicion. Day-to-day life took place while under constant threat.

You are a master oud player. What is an oud and why did you take it up?

The oud is a stringed instrument made entirely of wood. It has a short neck, a curved bowl-like sound box, and is fretless. The oldest known oud comes from ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq), specifically the Acadian period (circa 2350-2150 BC). The musical history of the Middle-East is built on this instrument. The oud is still very much alive because every maqam (scale) and modulation between maqams can be played on it without the need to re-tune. This is because it is fretless. Other Middle-Eastern instruments need to be re-tuned and so are restrictive in playing different maqams. The first thing that attracted me to the oud was its unique sound. The way it expresses the unique mood and spirit of each maqam on its doubled strings is very attractive to me. The way it is held, or rather hugged, is also something that is unique to the oud. The intimate relationship a musician builds with his/her oud is unlike any other instrument due to the way it is held. I also feel close to the oud because of the way I am able to freely express myself while moving from one maqam to another without any restrictions. I feel and listen to the history of my people through the oud.

Is your music viewed differently in the West compared to Iraq?

Of course, the response towards my music differs in the West in comparison to its reception in Iraq. That is not to say that one reaction is better than the other, they are merely different. In the West, I often have the need to explain the musical history of the oud and sometimes the pieces or maqam (scale) which I choose to play. I also feel the need to explain the mood and spirit of a maqam and the extensive use of quarter-tones in Middle-Eastern music (that is the tone that falls in between a flat or sharp tone and a natural tone, which does not exist in Western music). It is a sound that a Western ear may not be in tune with. Whereas, in Iraq I don’t need to explain myself. Since the musical language is already spoken, the message of my music is immediately understood. All I need to do is play. Playing to an audience that has grown up surrounded by the emotionally charged musical scales of the Middle-East is one thing; while watching a Western audience become attuned to the Arabic maqamaat (scales) and learn to appreciate their tonal and emotional nuances is another. Both experiences are a pleasure.

ISIS banned music. With extremist groups in the Middle East gaining ground, is music under threat?

Music has been under threat far before ISIS. During the dictatorship, the music and arts were used only to serve the regime. Musicians had no creative freedom. ISIS is inflicting the same sorts of regulations and control as any dictatorship. The only difference is that ruling with an iron fist is being done very publicly, whereas in the past, such things were hidden under the table. Many of those who supported the previous dictatorship now work under the ISIS flag, passing similar laws and rules under a different name, legitimizing their actions under the mask of a misused religion. Music in Iraq has not progressed over the past 15 years mainly due to the lack of government funding. In 2013, Baghdad was named the cultural capital of the Arab world. That year, the government had budgeted half a billion dollars to support the growth of culture. The money could have easily gone towards building cultural infrastructures all over the country. Yet, nothing has been built. Cultural buildings currently in use are all from the ’90s. They have not been maintained and are hardly fit for use. Nobody knows exactly where the money has gone but we do know that the cultural industries have been severely neglected.

Can music play a role in peace-building and reconciliation?

Music can always play a role in the process of peace-building and reconciliation. It can be used to help heal the psychological and emotional damage inflicted on people in a time of crisis. Music also brings people from different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds together. You tend to feel closer to a culture other than your own if you love and listen to its music. When you are open to appreciating music from a different culture, you learn to understand the people of that culture and their emotions and feelings through the music they listen to. You also tend to appreciate others who listen to the music of your own culture. Music has the ability to build bridges and bring everyone closer together. We can also contribute to a more cohesive future by teaching children to appreciate other cultures through music. Additionally, listening to quality music helps people feel calm and at peace with themselves and others. They tend to appreciate and love life, love others, love nature, love everything around them. When people find, within themselves, the ability to be at peace through music, there is no room for conflict. Music heals the soul. If you play music, its effects are even stronger. Music can do a lot.

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Ahmed Mukhtar and Oud: Communicating Experiences

Serenada Magazine, Goa, India
Interview by Sebanti Chatterjee, April 2nd 2017 

click here

Ahmed Mukhtar: Babylonian Fingers (Arc Music)

Elsewhere Magazine, New Zealand
Article by Graham Reid, June 26th 2015

click here

 

 

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“Iraqi music with no frills”

 Review by Bill Badley Bill Badley
Source: July 2015 Songlines

There’s something reassuring about putting on a CD called Music from Iraq and it sounding just like that- music from that great centre of Arab culture. The oud (lute) master Ahmed Mukhtar is one of the most prominent Iraqi-born musicians working in the UK today and he has devoted himself to preserving the musical heritage of his homeland. While Mukhtar composed most of the instrumental tracks on this album, they really do evoke the poise and soulfulness of authentic Iraqi classical music.
His oud technique is remarkably precise and perfectly supported by the small ensemble, particularly Hassan Hassan’s restrained percussion playing. One of two tiBrussels 3tles may not bode well but are actually very successful: ‘Blues of the Oud’ is a rather ingenious piece that uses a traditional Iraqi maqam (mode) that hints at the blues scale. It does sound a little bit like the ‘Pink Panther’ theme slinking along the Euphrates, but in a very endearing and successful way.

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The Master Mukhtar in concert at SOAS

performing Maqam and middle eastern music, during the Conference of Activist Humanities in the World

Ahmed Mukhtar, the master of the Oud performing Maqam and middle eastern music, during The Conference of Activist Humanities in the World Thursday 13th of March 2014 at 9.30 to 10.30 on SOAS, Khalili Lecture Theatre Concert Sponsored by, SOAS, University of London, University of Oxford, University College London, University of VirginiaThursday Activist Humanities in the World SOAS, University of London, University of Oxford, University College London, University of Virginia March 13, 14 and 15, 2014 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) A conference on the relationship between humanities and social change, across a wide range of national and cultural contexts, will bring together academics, artists, and audiences for three days of presentation and conversation. Guiding themes include artistic expression and political struggle, academic reflection and social responsibility, faith and society, and the circulation of texts, images and bodies at the start of the twenty first century.

Schedule of London Event 13 and 14 March 2014 Thursday, 13 March 2014, 7-11PM, SOAS, Khalili Lecture Theatre19:00-19:30 Reception 19:30-20:30 Ahdaf Soueif, chaired by Marina Warner 20:30-21:30 Gargi Sen, short films

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21:30-22:00 Ahmed Mukhtar, Master of Oud 

Meditation and Sensations is core of his music, Ahmed Mukhtar in Royal court theatre in London

Ahmed Mukhtar (The Musician Magazine)
Source: The Musician Magazine

The unfretted Oud (Middle Eastern Lute) may be the hardest of all instruments to play, with its delicately flattened intervals, but Ahmed Mukhtar extracts magic: he can make it dream, gallop, or thunder, and he uses silence to great effect also he focusing at soul of playing not just the techniques. The Musician Magazine: Maud Harnd meets an Iraqi Oud Master resident in the UK.

Ahmed Mukhtar Oud player is full of fire, but it’s fire that gently yet firm like his political perspective on Iraq, the country of his birth,’’ wherever I play, I take the opportunity to remained people of the ancient culture of my country. We don’t just have war, chemical weapons and dictator. We are heirs to one of the world’s first civilizations, particular during the Abbasid period (750- 1258), When Arab, Kurd, Turk and Jews lived together in harmony and excelled in music, philosophy and the arts’’Musician Maga

The Master of the Oud and composer has preformed recently in Royal court theatre in London, The type of music that have performed in the Iraq concert ‘Ten to Ten’, stems from the spirit of the Iraqi Maqam music and relays on Arabic and Middle Eastern musical forms, those forms have special way of playing in Iraq comparing with the way of playing them in the rest of the Middle East countries, that’s because Mukhtar has a characterized performance style and usually been played differently from other Oud player in region countries because of several advantages and reasons, Firstly: Mukhtar’s melodic structure mixed with someimprovisation also has introduction, middle and endings, those are pre composed musical sentences , Secondly, and that’s exactly what the soloist Master Ahmed Mukhtar performed on the Oud,  He performed selective Taqasim on the distinguishes Techniques like, Maqam Lami and Khanabat , Maqam Mokhalf and Awj by and other Maqams.

In addition to that audience listened to some of the compositions based on musical heritage forms such as Sama’ai Baghdad on Maqam Kurds and Sama’ai on Maqam Hijaz Madmi, also played some compositions like Shod Araban and, he said my compositions are based on old Maqams and traditional rhythms of the Iraqi and Middle East music and Meditation and Sensations is core of our musicOn Royal court

Ahmed Mukhtar Was born in Baghdad where he studied the Oud and Arabic music, later he studded and graduated from Damascus conservator, 2005 he granted Master degree in Oud and Middle East Music from SOAS university of London. He performed in more the 300 concerts and festivals over the world. 2009 He was granted (Alhambra) Award for Excellence under auspices of the Queen of Britain. Mukhtar has released four CDs produced by the ARC Music international Company, also recently in 2012 he finished his 5th CD which his composition and playing reflects Oud’s history, its sensations and its mysticism.

It was the music of Jamil Bashir (the Great Iraqi master of The Oud ) that first inspired Ahmed. Jamil, brother to the even more famous Munir Bashir, lead me to I realized that the Oud was as much about the instrument’s ancient history as its technical mastery, Ahmed said

Lucky the students who work with Ahmed Mukhtar at the school of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he teaches whilst reading master there himself. Luckier still, the musician back home who are benefiting from Ahmed’s fundraising and new working with European musician and institutions, to ensure that the ancient Iraq musical culture and infrastructure revives post-Saddam Hessian.

Maud Hand the music citric

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Awards balance media’s distorted view of Britain’s Muslims

Artcile Susannah Tarbush
Source: Saudi Gazette – 13 April 2009
by Susannah Tarbush
13 April 2009

Saudi Gazette
Article by Susannah Tarbush, June 26th 2015usannah Tarbush

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The composer and player of Oud, won the Arts Award

The awards are an opportunity to show appreciation for the contribution of British Muslims in the society, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said.
6 April 2009 – IslamOnline
Source: IslamOnline

Islamic on LineFrom the worlds of politics, business, sport and the arts, Britain’s unsung Muslim heroes and heroines were honored and celebrated at a ceremony that recognizes the very best of Muslim contribution to the British society. “This Awards ceremony is about recognizing those individuals who aspire to attain their very best as members of our society,” Ahmed J Versi, editor of The Muslim News said at the ceremony of the annual Muslim News Awards for Excellence on Monday, March 31. Winners of the annual awards, presented by the monthly Muslim newspaper, were announced in a massive celebration and gala dinner in central London.The awards are an opportunity to show appreciation for the contribution of British Muslims in the society, Home Secretary Jacqui Smithsaid.

The shortlist and later the winners of are chosen by a panel of independent judges drawn from Britain’s Muslim community to reflect a cross-section of opinion and experience. After pruning back scores of nominations, the panel reaches the winners list for the awards presented in 15 different categories.  The annual ceremony is celebrating its ninth year. Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears were among more than 800 people invited to the event. “The Muslim News Awards are an important opportunity for us all to recognize and show our appreciation for the valuable contribution that British Muslims make to our shared society,” Smith said in the ceremony.

Clegg said that the awards provide an opportunity to acknowledge the many successful achievements of British Muslims. “They also encourage us to reflect upon the valuable social, cultural, and economic contribution made by the Muslim community in the UK.” Britain is home to nearly 2 million Muslims. A recent ICM/Guardian poll showed that 91 percent of British Muslims are “loyal” to Britain and 80 percent wanted to live in and accept Western society.

Pioneers

Sponsors of the award said that the awards reveals every year a diverse group of pioneer Muslims in various fields. “We began this event nine years ago because we believed that British Muslims have a lot to offer to British society,” said Versi.

“Nine years on, and the quality of nominations… show that British Muslims still have what it takes to be pioneering contributors to the common good.”

This year, 17 heroes and heroines from across all walks of life were awarded. Mohammed Ali, a Birmingham-based graffiti artist whose so-called aerosol Arabic is influenced by both classical Islamic calligraphy and urban street graffiti, won the Alhambra Award for Excellence in Arts and the special Judges award.

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Iraq-born Ahmed Mukhtar, a world acclaimed composer and player of Oud, the stringed instrument popular in the Middle East, also won the Arts Award.

The Ibn Sina Award for Health went to Mohammed Mujahid Ali, an alternative therapist, for work improving the wellbeing and mental health of black and minority ethnic people. Imran Sidat, a 15-year-old Leicester resident who competes for England in freestyle karate and kickboxing, won the Children’s Award for Excellence. Emdad Rahman, IOL correspondent and an award-winning journalist working with a range of faith organizations on inter-faith work, won the Award for Good Citizenship. Previous winners have included boxing champion Amir Khan and MP Sadiq Khan.

Versi, also founder of the Muslim monthly paper, affirmed that such diverse group of Muslim pioneers and success stories makes a point. “Islam engenders in the life of a Muslim the desire to do well, to succeed and to persevere patiently and with faith.”

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Ahmed Mukhtar won Alhambra award for excellence in arts

31 March 2009

The Muslim News
Awards for Excellence  2009-On Monday the 30 Ahmed Mukhtar won
Alhambra award for excellence in arts from The Muslim News Awards for Excellence

BBC news serves:

Muslim ‘unsung heroes’ honoured
A graffiti artist and teenage martial arts participant have been honoured in a ceremony recognising “unsung heroes” of the Muslim community in Britain.

Other award recipients included an alternative therapist, a Church of Scotland minister, and a master player of the Middle East instrument, the Oud. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, facing a row over expenses claims that included two adult films, presented an award. The annual Muslim News Awards for Excellence are in their ninth year.Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears were among more than 800 people invited to the event at London’s Grosvenor House hotel.

The winners included:

  • Mohammed Ali, a Birmingham-based graffiti artist whose so-called aerosol Arabic is influenced by both classical Islamic calligraphy and urban street graffiti
  • Imran Sidat, 15, from Leicester, who competes for England in freestyle karate and kickboxing
  • Mohammed Mujahid Ali, an alternative therapist, for work improving the wellbeing and mental health of black and minority ethnic people
    Reverend Gilleasbuig MacMillan, minister at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, for welcoming Muslims to the cathedral
  • Acclaimed Iraq-born composer Ahmed Mukhtar, who is based in London and is master player of the Oud, the stringed instrument popular in the Middle East

A judging panel drawn from Britain’s Muslim community judged the awards in politics, business, sports and the arts. Ms Smith, who took to the stage to present an award, said: “Promoting dialogue and understanding is crucially important at a time when we see those on the extreme fringes of society peddling an empty ideology of isolation, fear and hatred.

“We will have to stand up to them and we all have a duty to make ourselves heard.” Previous winners have included boxing champion Amir Khan and MP Sadiq Khan. The editor of the Muslim News, Ahmed Versi, said: “We began this event nine years ago because we believed that British Muslims have a lot to offer to British society. “The quality of nominations from our 150,000 readers show that British Muslims still have what it takes to be pioneering contributors to the common good.”

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 Mukhtar: New Maqams from Iraq Sing Out!

11 March 2007 – by Chris Nickson
Source: The Folk Song Magazine

Winter, 2006
MetroOudist Mukhtar has had quite a glittering career for one not yet 40-years-old, with praise from many parts of the globe. For this release he’s turned his thoughts back to his native Iraq and its maqams. In Arab classical music the maqam is a mode; in Iraqi classical music it also refers to a suite, which is an improvisation within certain rules, and that is what’s presented here. The ensemble–oud, ney flute, percussion, qanun (a type of hammered dulcimer) and joza (spike fiddle) interact beautifully on a series of Mukhtar compositions mostly based around old maqams, but frequently updated, as on “Doulab Mukhtar,” where the circular feel and use of only four or five notes from the mode gives a near-Greek feel. Mukhtar himself is both an effective leader and superb player as he shows on the atmospheric “Motherly,” where his instrument teases out the emotion of the music. The album ends with taqsims–free improvisations–for oud, qanun, and joza that act as showcases for the musicians’ skill, and these guys are among the best, as both “Segah” and “Moments in the Mosque” show. The Road to Baghdad not only takes Mukhtar home, it hopefully brings a great talent onto a wider global stage. The only fault is the rather empty, sterile production (by Mukhtar) which actually works against the group feel of the players. However, with luck he’ll have someone else behind the board next time around.

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Sound of Baghdad the Indepentent interview

Mukhtar plays in the style he learnt from Munir Bashir, which is itself derived from modes handed down through the centuries, and which is beautifully exemplified in Bashir’s The Art of the Oud.
Michael Church
Source: The Indepentent

Ahmed Mukhtar: Sound of Baghdad
One week, it’s a song for Saddam’s mother’s birthday; the next, a battle
hymn.The oud master Ahmed Mukhtar tells Michael Church how Great Uncle calls the tunes in Iraq
Published: 10 March 2003
We’re told that Saddam Hussein is an avid reader of novels; it now emerges that he’s just as keen on music. “Don’t quote me on this,”one Iraqi musician tells me conspiratorially, “but Saddam once asked Munir Bashir for oud lessons and got Baghdad’s best oud-maker to build him an instrument inlaid with gold.” Indeed, stories abound of Saddam’s love for his country’s traditional music, with its intricate melodic lines backed by lute, flute, fiddle and drum.
We’re told that Saddam Hussein is an avid reader of novels; it now emerges that he’s just as keen on music. “Don’t quote me on this,” one Iraqi musician tells me conspiratorially, “but Saddam once asked Munir Bashir for oud lessons and got Baghdad’s best oud-maker to build him an instrument inlaid with gold.” Indeed, stories abound of Saddam’s love for his country’s traditional music, with its intricate melodic lines backed by lute, flute, fiddle and drum. The Indenpendent
But, according to the émigré oud-master Ahmed Mukhtar, that love is heavily conditional. “Iraqi musicians have been suffering for decades from this so-called affection, because they’ve been systematically forced to compose and perform songs for Saddam and his sons. I know one prominent composer for obvious reasons, I can’t name him – who writes songs without words, so that when Saddam’s demand comes, he will have a song ready for the occasion. One week, it will be a song for Saddam’s mother’s birthday; another time, it will be for the birthday of one of his sons. Each of Saddam’s historic battles requires a song to be specially written to celebrate it. All Iraq’s composers have songs in the drawer, ready for the moment when they are needed. People have forgotten what it feels like to write from the heart.”
This casts a sad light on that poignant moment in Andy Kershaw’s recent World Routes report, when one of Iraq’s top singers delivered a throbbingly passionate and freshly-composed song about his willingness to die for the Great Uncle.
Releasing a new record this month Rhythms of Baghdad Mukhtar is happy to speak out. “Most Iraqi musicians live in fear, even abroad, because of the danger of reprisals against their families. I have a duty to say what they have suffered.”
Ever since Saddam consolidated his power in 1979, he says, music has been shackled to his demands. “One of the first things he did was to drive the excellent musicians who had thrived under the communists into exile. You had to either perform and compose for him, or be a total outsider. And you had to write happy music: if your music was sad, you were judged to be undermining the regime. One poet I knew wrote lyrics that were critical of Iraqi life, and he was taken away by the secret service, was tortured, and died.”
Sattar Al-Saadi, whose percussion supports Mukhtar’s oud on Rhythms of Baghdad, is equally emphatic. “In Iraq, as a musician, you cannot say no. You have to constantly prove to the government that you are not guilty of sedition every week, every day. You say yes to everything they do and say. But if you are an artist, you will create with more intensity if you are suffering. So Iraqi music is still good.”
Al-Saadi, who now teaches Iraqi percussion at the Amsterdam Conservatoire, refuses to talk about his road to freedom (with the aid of Turkish people-smugglers), but Mukhtar’s story is instructive. As a music student during the Iran-Iraq war, Mukhtar was allowed to postpone his military service.
“Then they tried to put me into the home guard, but as Saddam himself had decreed that artists should have the right to choose, I chose not to. For that I must thank him! On the other hand, he expected musicians to play for the troops, to do music for the battle. That was to be our contribution.” The end of the war in 1988 let him off that particular hook, but within a year he was once more required for army service, and was saved by the intervention of his teacher, the great Munir Bashir.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Mukhtar was working in Jordan, and was immediately ordered home. “But I couldn’t go back I fled to Syria. When we heard that America had attacked Saddam, I and a group of my friends artists, musicians, poets decided that it would be safe to go back to Iraq. But in northern Iraq we ran into a division of Saddam’s army, so we fled to the nearest border, which happened to be that with Iran. There, I was put straight into prison, because, at that time in Iran, music was forbidden. My imprisonment lasted six months, and was not a good experience: in a castle in the middle of the desert, just for Iraqis – for communists and musicians like me.”
Then, as relations between Iraq and Iran began to improve, he was ordered back to Baghdad. “I said I would prefer to go to Syria. They refused to let me. So I said OK, just let me out anyway.” He made his way to Syria and started a concert career, but when Syria in turn began cosying up to Saddam, he realised that it was time to move once more. He escaped with a fake passport to asylum in London, which is where he now earns his living by passing on his country’s musical skills.
Those skills go way back. The musical bow from which the oud is descended was a favourite instrument of the Babylonians, and it figures in the Bible. In medieval times, Baghdad was the hub of the musical universe: it was from there that Arab Islamic performance styles spread west to Spain. Mukhtar plays in the style he learnt from Munir Bashir, which is itself derived from modes handed down through the centuries, and which is beautifully exemplified in Bashir’s The Art of the Oud.
The other oud record now available in the shops sheds a queasily different light on the Saddam question. There’s no quarrelling with the musical excellence displayed by Naseer Shamma on Le luth de Bagdad, but this musician is an Iraqi loyalist who has openly dedicated his work to his political master, and who enjoys great privilege as a result. Should that affect how we listen to his music?
Perhaps the wisest thing is to join Andy Kershaw, whose reports we can still hear on the internet, and who accepted the contradictions of the situation. While Kershaw’s Kurdish musicians sang in furtive secrecy Saddam had identified them as a focus for dissent and liquidated their leaders the religious Sufis were explicitly chanting for Saddam’s victory. But if the bombs begin to fall in a fortnight or so, I shall be thinking of the Baghdad radio presenter who spoke movingly of his own recent experience of being under bombardment, and who insisted that if the same thing were to happen again, he would just keep on broadcasting. As he spoke, there was a tremor in his voice.
World Routes: www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/world/kershawiraq.shtml
Ahmed Mukhtar’s ‘Rhythms of Baghdad’ is on ARC (EUCD1781). Naseer Shamma’s ‘Le luth de Bagdad’ is on Institut Du Monde Arabe (distributed by Harmonia Mundi; IMA321009). Munir Bashir’s ‘The Art of the Oud’ is on Ocora (C580068)

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The Soldier’s Tale, music by Mukhtar

The music is, however, lovely – Ahmed Mukhtar’s Arabic additions woven deftly around the Stravinsky; if only the rest of the evening had shown such intelligence and tact.

By Robert Hanks
Source: The Independent

The Soldier’s Tale, Old Vic, London
By Robert Hanks Published: 01 February 2006
When the curtain rises on a sand-and-rubble-strewn Old Vic stage, the first thing the audience sees is a band of musicians standing to attention, clad in First World War British Army uniform. It’s a reminder that Igor Stravinsky’s pioneering music-theatre fable was written and first performed in 1918. حكاية جند
By contrast, the soldier, or rather, in this bilingual production, soldiers of the title, wear the modern grunt’s customary garb of T-shirt, baggy camouflage trousers and dog-tag.
That might be construed as a reminder that we are in the shadow of war now. Not that anybody in the Old Vic will have had trouble remembering that: Paul Steggall’s production brings together British and Iraqi actors and musicians.This is two stagings at once, one in English, one in Arabic. As well as two soldiers on their way home from the wars, you get two devils trying to tempt them, two narrators, and two sets of musicians – a chamber orchestra playing Stravinsky’s raucously folksy score, and Iraqi players offering a more melancholy response.
Solder TailEach part of the story is played out twice, once in each language – the two sets of dialogue chasing and interrupting one another, while the soldiers move across one another, occasionally imitating one another or interacting, their performances entwining.
As an exercise in contrasting styles this is striking and sometimes ingenious, but it is hard to see what is being revealed.
Perhaps some statement is intended about British involvement in Iraq – the programme cover, with its blindfolded soldier, seems to imply this, but I was at a loss to spot the relevance. Could the dual structure imply something about the eternally brutalising nature of soldiering? I can’t, however, detect that in Stravinsky and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz’s original.
The main effect of the staging’s peculiar structure is to confuse the narrative and inflate a slender, witty, neatly turned hour-long piece into a dull and unwieldy two hours.
Steggall’s direction is clever in purely mechanical terms, but seems to have little to do with the story. The music is, however, lovely – Ahmed Mukhtar’s Arabic additions woven deftly around the Stravinsky; if only the rest of the evening had shown such intelligence and tact.

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Classical music meets Saddam’s notorious torture-house

“Arabic clarinet-playing is completely different from the European style”. On the other hand, Mukhtar feels comfortable with Stravinsky: “There’s something very Eastern about his music, which I feel close to.”
Michael Church
Source: The Independent

Classical music meets Saddam’s notorious torture-house
A joint British and Iraqi take on Igor Stravinsky and CF Ramuz’s musical tale of temptation
By Michael Church
Published: 24 January 2006
The chugging strains filling the Old Vic rehearsal room are unmistakably those of the first-ever piece of music theatre: Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for violin, woodwind, brass, drum, and actors. Suddenly two new instruments change the music’s colour: with the addition of an oudh and a ney flute, things take on an Eastern tinge, as the actor centre-stage begins an Iraqi traditional song.Soldr cKerin

He’s flanked by two other performers – the veteran British actor Julian Glover, and the Iraqi actor Falah al Flayeh – whose lines interlace English and Arabic. Andrew Steggall, the nervy young Brit who is directing, breaks off every few minutes to check that his music director, Robin O’Neill, and the Iraqi composer, Ahmed Mukhtar, are both happy: Mukhtar is not very. They’ve hit a sticking-point: they can’t agree on whether to segue into an Iraqi marching song via “Rule Britannia” or “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Meanwhile, two other Iraqi actors await their cues; the English translator Rebecca Lenkiewicz and the Iraqi translator Abdulkareem Kasid brood on script-changes; the Iraqi film-maker Hayder Daffar – whose terrifying documentary on post-war Iraq, The Dreams of Sparrows, is now being acclaimed in the West – is busy with his camera.

Inspired by Russian folk tales and written in the shadow of the First World War, Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale is now being used to reflect the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the Faustian pact that its hero-victim makes with the devil is being adjusted accordingly. So the devil’s book of the original, a primer on how to make money, is now playing a variety of roles, functioning as the Koran, the Bible, the “dodgy dossier”, and even a map of Iraq’s oilfields.

“It’s about selling ideology,” explains Steggall. “And if you follow its advice, it will take you to Hell.” But he insists that the piece is not a polemic about Iraq: “It’s a story about choices, and it’s applicable anywhere.”

But it does, of course, readily apply to Iraq, most obviously in terms of the loss, which is its leitmotiv. If the Soldier is constantly losing things – his violin, his family, and even his manhood when he’s cuckolded by his fiancée – the Iraqi performers, all of whom have lost friends and relatives, have a crueller acquaintance with this theme. They know what it means to be a soldier. Mukhtar, who spent years evading Saddam’s police after absconding from the army, takes the show very personally: “This piece is my story. The Soldier is the Iraqi people now, and, like everybody else in the cast, I have first-hand experience to draw on.”

And if this show – a co-production between The Motion Group and the National Theatre of Iraq – is a one-off, so was its genesis. Just over a year ago, Steggall and O’Neill put on a single performance of The Soldier’s Tale at the Old Vic: Jeremy Irons was the central character, and they used the event to launch what they then simply called their “Iraq project”. Then – flying in the face of common sense, plus official discouragement from the Foreign Office – Steggall took himself off to Baghdad to trawl for actors. Steggall took O’Neill on a further trip to Baghdad, but they were ordered out by the British embassy. They held their auditions in Saddam’s infamous Red House in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.

And that is what they’re transforming the Old Vic into now. “We’ve emptied the stage, cleared out everything so it’s just bare walls, which we are dressing and painting in the style of the Red House,” says Steggall. “And on the floor will be just an expanse of sand – a wasteland, Middle Eastern in flavour. Our narrators will sit either side, Julian in an English pub, Falah in an Iraqi café, each telling their story. And gradually it will become clear how their respective soldiers have become foreign, alien to each other, though the audience will finally realise they are one and the same.Soldre Ala'a

“We will show how the wrong Faustian motives result in the protagonists becoming enemies, remote and alien to each other. When they defeat the devil they win back their soul. When we tour the show to Iraq, we hope the audience will realise that we have a common language.” Tour to Iraq? “In a very slimmed-down form, with an all-Iraqi cast. It will be unannounced – there’d be no point putting that in a paper.

When I catch Mukhtar at a stressful point in the collaboration, other tensions are revealed. “I told them to be careful, that we are artists, not politicians, and we want to present the truth,” he says. “Embarrassing Tony Blair should not be the aim – even though I don’t defend him. The Iraqi people’s sufferings under Saddam are more important.” He’s unhappy at the imbalance between the two parts of the ensemble, with just three Iraqi players facing seven European instrumentalists. He knows the problem is finance, but “Arabic clarinet-playing is completely different from the European style”. On the other hand, Mukhtar feels comfortable with Stravinsky: “There’s something very Eastern about his music, which I feel close to.”

Iraq is elbowing its way into this cosy corner of London in a variety of ways. Mukhtar talks sadly of the music centre he’s been trying to set up in Baghdad, and Abdulkareem recalls his own flight from Saddam’s inquisitors, being stuffed into a tanker alongside other refugees: “I asked the man jammed on top of me if he was OK, and he said: ‘I feel as fresh as a rose – and you are my vase!’ Iraqi poetry exists even in such desperate situations.”

On the other hand, since the Iraqi actors are all sit-com stars back home, they’re getting free meals in London restaurants owned by their fans, and they’re revelling in the chance to work in a climate free from fear. “We want to show that soldiers everywhere are powerless to make decisions about their lives,” says Hayder. “Our job is to spread a message of peace. Our conflict in this play is a conflict of love.”

‘The Soldier’s Tale’, Old Vic, London SE1 (0870 060 6628), Thursday to 4 February

The chugging strains filling the Old Vic rehearsal room are unmistakably those of the first-ever piece of music theatre: Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for violin, woodwind, brass, drum, and actors. Suddenly two new instruments change the music’s colour: with the addition of an oudh and a ney flute, things take on an Eastern tinge, as the actor centre-stage begins an Iraqi traditional song.

He’s flanked by two other performers – the veteran British actor Julian Glover, and the Iraqi actor Falah al Flayeh – whose lines interlace English and Arabic. Andrew Steggall, the nervy young Brit who is directing, breaks off every few minutes to check that his music director, Robin O’Neill, and the Iraqi composer, Ahmed Mukhtar, are both happy: Mukhtar is not very. They’ve hit a sticking-point: they can’t agree on whether to segue into an Iraqi marching song via “Rule Britannia” or “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Meanwhile, two other Iraqi actors await their cues; the English translator Rebecca Lenkiewicz and the Iraqi translator Abdulkareem Kasid brood on script-changes; the Iraqi film-maker Hayder Daffar – whose terrifying documentary on post-war Iraq, The Dreams of Sparrows, is now being acclaimed in the West – is busy with his camera.

Inspired by Russian folk tales and written in the shadow of the First World War, Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale is now being used to reflect the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the Faustian pact that its hero-victim makes with the devil is being adjusted accordingly. So the devil’s book of the original, a primer on how to make money, is now playing a variety of roles, functioning as the Koran, the Bible, the “dodgy dossier”, and even a map of Iraq’s oilfields.

“It’s about selling ideology,” explains Steggall. “And if you follow its advice, it will take you to Hell.” But he insists that the piece is not a polemic about Iraq: “It’s a story about choices, and it’s applicable anywhere.”

But it does, of course, readily apply to Iraq, most obviously in terms of the loss, which is its leitmotiv. If the Soldier is constantly losing things – his violin, his family, and even his manhood when he’s cuckolded by his fiancée – the Iraqi performers, all of whom have lost friends and relatives, have a crueller acquaintance with this theme. They know what it means to be a soldier. Mukhtar, who spent years evading Saddam’s police after absconding from the army, takes the show very personally: “This piece is my story. The Soldier is the Iraqi people now, and, like everybody else in the cast, I have first-hand experience to draw on.”Solder Violin

And if this show – a co-production between The Motion Group and the National Theatre of Iraq – is a one-off, so was its genesis. Just over a year ago, Steggall and O’Neill put on a single performance of The Soldier’s Tale at the Old Vic: Jeremy Irons was the central character, and they used the event to launch what they then simply called their “Iraq project”. Then – flying in the face of common sense, plus official discouragement from the Foreign Office – Steggall took himself off to Baghdad to trawl for actors. Steggall took O’Neill on a further trip to Baghdad, but they were ordered out by the British embassy. They held their auditions in Saddam’s infamous Red House in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.
And that is what they’re transforming the Old Vic into now. “We’ve emptied the stage, cleared out everything so it’s just bare walls, which we are dressing and painting in the style of the Red House,” says Steggall. “And on the floor will be just an expanse of sand – a wasteland, Middle Eastern in flavour. Our narrators will sit either side, Julian in an English pub, Falah in an Iraqi café, each telling their story. And gradually it will become clear how their respective soldiers have become foreign, alien to each other, though the audience will finally realise they are one and the same.

“We will show how the wrong Faustian motives result in the protagonists becoming enemies, remote and alien to each other. When they defeat the devil they win back their soul. When we tour the show to Iraq, we hope the audience will realise that we have a common language.” Tour to Iraq? “In a very slimmed-down form, with an all-Iraqi cast. It will be unannounced – there’d be no point putting that in a paper.

When I catch Mukhtar at a stressful point in the collaboration, other tensions are revealed. “I told them to be careful, that we are artists, not politicians, and we want to present the truth,” he says. “Embarrassing Tony Blair should not be the aim – even though I don’t defend him. The Iraqi people’s sufferings under Saddam are more important.” He’s unhappy at the imbalance between the two parts of the ensemble, with just three Iraqi players facing seven European instrumentalists. He knows the problem is finance, but “Arabic clarinet-playing is completely different from the European style”. On the other hand, Mukhtar feels comfortable with Stravinsky: “There’s something very Eastern about his music, which I feel close to.”

Iraq is elbowing its way into this cosy corner of London in a variety of ways. Mukhtar talks sadly of the music centre he’s been trying to set up in Baghdad, and Abdulkareem recalls his own flight from Saddam’s inquisitors, being stuffed into a tanker alongside other refugees: “I asked the man jammed on top of me if he was OK, and he said: ‘I feel as fresh as a rose – and you are my vase!’ Iraqi poetry exists even in such desperate situations.”

On the other hand, since the Iraqi actors are all sit-com stars back home, they’re getting free meals in London restaurants owned by their fans, and they’re revelling in the chance to work in a climate free from fear. “We want to show that soldiers everywhere are powerless to make decisions about their lives,” says Hayder. “Our job is to spread a message of peace. Our conflict in this play is a conflict of love.”

‘The Soldier’s Tale’, Old Vic, London SE1 (0870 060 6628), Thursday to 4 February

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Mukhtar in the World on Your Street tent at WOMAD 2003

‘Muwashshah is a very old style of singing which dates from the golden age of Arabic and Oriental music’

BBC Radio
Source: BBC Website

How I came to this music:

Iraq has a very rich musical culture and as a child there I always used to listen to famous oud players and singers on TV and radio. I felt that the sound of the oud was very close to me and I was inspired by the great masters such as Munir Bashir to do something similar. I started to learn oud in 1979 and later attended the School of Fine Arts and Music in Baghdad, where I started with a very great oud teacher (Ganam Hadad). He encouraged me to become a soloist and recommended different teachers to me. This was in the early ’80s. BBC 3=3Eventually I appeared on a TV programme showcasing the younger generation of players and singers and as a result, people invited me to play some festivals and concerts for various institutes. I had started to work as a soloist but I didn’t compose anything at that time. After that I began to play with The Arabic Orchestra of Music and Muwashshah. Muwashshah is a very old style of singing which dates from the ‘golden age of Arabic and Oriental music’ and we still consider it as the basic thing you have to start with to be a singer or player. I started to play with them as a soloist and to accompany singers.
After I finished my studies I worked in TV as a freelancer playing and doing some research and eventually I left Iraq in 1990, arriving in Britain after a very long journey. At present I play as a soloist and sometimes I do experimental trials with other instruments. I play the traditional style of doing improvisations (taqsim) on Arabic scales (maqams). Some of the pieces I play were composed by the greatest oud players of Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, and some are my own.

Where I play:

I play fairly regularly in London, Europe and parts of the Middle East, usually when I’m invited by organisations interested Arabic, Oriental and Iraqi music. I also play at various music festivals, sometimes those entirely devoted to Arabic music or at others in multi-cultural festivals. I’ve played festivals in Germany and France, and this summer I have a series of private concerts in Scandinavia. I haven’t played in North America yet. I was invited once to play in Canada but it was too difficult for me to go.

A favourite song:

The Dance of the Bedouin is taken from my last CD Rhythms of Baghdad which consists entirely of my own compositions. On this CD, I’m accompanied by my percussionist Sattar Al Saadi . I chose this one because it really shows the style of the original Arabic/Oriental music, which actually comes from the Bedouin style of singing, chanting and dancing, as well as their poetry.

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Arabesque – Music in The British Museum

British Museum interview

Arabesque – Music
In British MuseumMusic in the Middle East is characterised by its emphasis on melody and rhythm rather than harmony. The modern music styles of the Middle East and North Africa have become increasingly influential worldwide through the work of such popular artists as Khaled, Clotaire K, and Natasha Atlas.

World renowned oud player and composer Ahmed Mukhtar performs beautiful music shaped by the traditions of Iraq and the Middle East. Enjoy his recent live performance at the British Museum in the attached links. Find out more about the oud and its poignant history in an exclusive interview with this virtuoso performer.

Although developed from ancient traditions, the music of the oud is intrinsically linked to the contemporary life and consciousness of people in the Middle East. Download a sample of Bedouin music for your own enjoyment.

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Maud Hand meets an Iraqi Oud Master

It was the music of Jamil Bashir that first inspired Ahmed. Jamil, brother to the even more famous Munir Bashir, I realised that the Oud was as much about the instrument’s ancient history as its technical mastery, so read all I could about middle Eastern Music.
Maud Hand
Source: F. Roots Magazine

F. Roots Magazine: Maud Hand meets an Iraqi Oud Master resident in the UK. Ahmed Mukhtar
Ahmed Mukhtar Oud player is full of fire, but it’s fire that gently yet firm like his political perspective on Iraq, the country of his birth,’’ wherever I play, I take the opportunity to remained people of the ancient culture of my country. We don’t just have war, chemical weapons and dictator. We are heirs to one of the world’s first civilizations, particular during the Abbasid period (750- 1258), When Arab, Kurd, Turk and Jews lived together in harmony and excelled in music, philosophy and the arts’’
F root

The Abbasid spirit infused Ahmed’s early days. He was born and raised in Al-Thawrah, a poor suburb of Baghdad and home to farming emigrants from the south.’’ Though I grow up in an urban setting my root are rural with music playing a central role. There was always chanting and signing, from rocking the baby asleep to humming en route to market. Prising your pals or fighting enemies-what- ever the situation, we were innately move to write a lyrical poem to suit,’’ he laugh.

There’s a lot of laughter from Ahmed, an expression of a spacious spirit capable of transcending the religious outlook of this paternal relative, not lease his six uncles who abhorred the musician’s lifestyle. ‘‘My father was more relax, probably because of my mother, whose entire family loves music and all things cultural. He’s grudging lay accepted my choice. He had no option’’ Ahmed recalls, ‘’ I couldn’t help myself, willing to do it in secret at start.

It was the music of Jamil Bashir that first inspired Ahmed. Jamil, brother to the even more famous Munir Bashir, was a singer and Oud player who taught at the Iraqi Music institute as a 10- year- old, I realised that the Oud was as much about the instrument’s ancient history as its technical mastery, so read all I could about middle Eastern Music.

Ahmed’s young brother, a composer now living in Dubai and his neighbour, Ishaq, were his first teacher. With their encouragement he enrolled at the institute Of Music where he was 14. His tutor was Ganam Hadad, one of the country’s master and leading exponent of the Iraqi style. The style evolved in the early 1900s and was influence by the rich Abbasid heritage.’’ It’s a tradition style of doing improvisation known as Taqasim on Arabic scale or Maqams. It’s as mach as Tarab which means enjoyment is it as about expression, but you can’t have enjoyment, you mast also have the techniques to express the feeling’’.

Ahmed clearly had the right combination of expression and technical mastery. By his third year, Ganam Hadad advised him to pursuer a solo career. ‘‘The Oud consumed my live then. I’d leave home at eight in the morning and return in the evening around nine. All day I’d be busy practising, taking lessons or losing myself in the library to sharpen my intellectual understanding of the instrument’’.

What Ahmed discovered through his studies was the Oud owes its tradition as mach to Jewish, Turkish, Kurdish and Persian idioms as it in does to Arabic ones. His repertoire always reflected this inclusive legacy.’’ Narrow nationalism his no please. Music is for live in the widest sense and it’s up to me as a musician universal in my approach and choice of material’’. This universal dispassion did no set easily in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where differences were actively encouraged to enforce dictatorial control. ‘’ He has hunkering back to the Ottoman Empire where people were divided through ignorance. Yet in the neighbourhood of my youth, Arabs, Sunni and Shia, Kurd and member of the Sabi religion lived harmony.

After Ahmed completed his musical studies, he pursued a freelance career, per forming with the Arabic Orchestra of music And Muashshaht. Muashshaht An old style of singing that goes with the Oud. When the inevitable call to military server came, Ahmed left Iraq. ‘’ I did not want to fight my neighbours and in my heart I didn’t believe in Saddam’s regime. In 1990 a Kurdish friend helped Ahmed get to Iran where he ended up in prison.’’ Back then musicians were forbidden in the Islamic republic of Iraq so they kept me in an isolated cell for five months. It was horrible.’’

When he was released, Ahem headed to Syria where he worked as a celebrated musician. Yet his comfort was short- live. By 1998 the relationship between Iraq and Syria had improved. After that he might end up being to forced to return to Iraq, Ahmed came to Britain where he application for asylum and British citizenship was eventually granted. ‘’ In Arabic culture when you go to desert and a traveler shares his water with you, you are forever indebted to his kindness. That how you feel about Britain. Not one of my neighboring Islamic saved my from the evil Iraqi dictatorship, yet here I’m allowed to study my music and live in peace.

Ahmed application to his music fruit. Together with percussion, Satter Al- Saadi, he’s released Rhythm of Baghdad, a collocation of original composition and reworking of traditional tunes.’’ Satter has a wonderful imagination so we are always trying to create new rhythm. It helps that I also studied percussion. So I’ve a solid understanding of rhythm and tone. ‘‘Neither is Ahmed afraid to experiment, as hints of Jazz and American blue-grass improvisation seep through the sound. ‘’My mentor, Ganam Hadad, actively encourages it, saying everything traditional was new at some point.’’

Lucky the students who work with Ahmed Mukhtar at the school of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he teaches whilst reading master there him self. Luckier still, the musician back home who are benefiting from Ahmed’s fundraising and new working with European musician and institutions, to ensure that the ancient Iraq musical culture and infrastructure revives post-Saddam Hessian.

You can read more about Ahmed Mukhtar at BBC Radio3’s World On Your Street viawww.bbc.co.uk/radio3/world/onyourstreet/masahmed.shtmi.

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Global Rhythm Magazine with Ahmed Mukhtar

Mukhtar is a master of the oud, and a practitioner of the maqam, an ancient form whose very existence is like so much else in Iraq threatened today.
Bruce MillerGlobel Rhythem , Magazine Text

By Bruce Miller
Globel Rhythem , Magazine cover“I always compose music that embraces people of the world,” says Ahmed Mukhtar, which would be an admirable goal even if the speaker wasn’t a resident of Iraq, currently embroiled in a dire war understood by so few. Mukhtar is a master of the oud, and a practitioner of the maqam, an ancient form whose very existence is ike so much else in Iraq threatened today. “Traditional music,” he says, “is the only music in the hearts and blood of the Iraqi people, so we have to put it to use.

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Mukhtar’s blessed fingers

“His blessed fingers fashioning shades and shapes from his instrument that most people can only dream of. Veering from sprightly melodic segments to passages of innovative strokes and strums; the effect is a unique excursion to the heart and soul’s sensual acoustics.”
Fatima Queti
Source: Committee of the Middle East Society in Oxford / Oxford Internet Newspaper U.K.

Mukhtar’s blessed fingers fashioning shades from his instrument that people only dream of
Written by: Fatima Queti*

Photos By davidMukhtar is an internationally recognized performer on the Oud (Arab lute) who has played in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Vienna and Geneva. He has devoted his life to the mastery of this instrument and the study of the history and theory of Arab music.

Mukhtar was invited by the Oxford Middle East Society to perform in the Holywell Theatre of Oxford University. The concert, entitled “Taqasim Sharqiyah”, was an oriental solo where he played some of his new pieces and musical improvisations on the Oud, such as Maqam Rast, Maqam Hijaz Kar, Maqam Pastani Kar, Jahargah and Maqam Al-Kindy (founded by the Arab philosopher Al-Kindi (801-866) and discovered by Mukhtar in 2000). Among his own compositions played were Heeda, Ata’ar, Oriental Eyes, Midnight and Andalusia.

Mukhtar derives his musical inspirations from oriental maqam music, especially the Oud music of the Iraqi school, and his research of the heritage of Arabic music led him to discover a new maqam related to the Arab philosopher Al-Kindy.

His music is rooted in this rich and complex tradition while also taking it in unique new directions. “It reflects history, sadness, mysticism… His playing takes you to the cafes, alleys and minarets of Baghdad… an evocation of exploring your soul on the banks of the Tigris.”

“His blessed fingers fashioning shades and shapes from his instrument that most people can only dream of. Veering from sprightly melodic segments to passages of innovative strokes and strums; the effect is a unique excursion to the heart and soul’s sensual acoustics.”

As well as performing, Mukhtar spoke about the history of the oud, which is at the heart of Arab music, with its evocative and soulful tones. He also explained aspects of technique and music theory, speaking about different methods of playing, the number of strings used in the past in different countries and the strings that had been added to the Oud later. He also referred to the difference between solo performance and traditional melodic playing.

The concert was our last event this term and was certain to be its cultural highlight. The concert took place at 8pm, Wednesday 7th March

*Committee of the Middle East Society in Oxford / Oxford Internet Newspaper U.K. 14. 3. 2001

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Adonis, Said Amin and Ahmed Mukhtar in Geneva’s tent of dreams

Saad Haddad (Translated by: Ali Salim)
Source: Al Quds Al Arabi Newspaper

Poetry, Plastic Arts and Music in on Evening:
Adonis, Said Amin and Ahmed Mukhtar in
Geneva’s tent of dreams
Written by: Saad Haddad

Translated by: Ali Salim

The L’Association Culturelle du Muchrek Arabe (Association of the Eastern Arabic Culture) in Geneva has recently invited the poet Adonis, the plastic artist Said Amin and the musician Ahmed Mukhtar, to give an evening of poetry, Adonisart and music together. The evening left good impressions and deep meanings on the memory of the audience, that shall be remembered for a long time and I think it should not be put on the same shelf with many other evenings which we have witnessed or heard of before, because the standard of Amin’s art and Adonis’ poetry woven together by an Iraqi Oud music such as Mukhtar’s that took everything into it’s magic. Mukktar’s music drowns you in a world of oneness which recalls to mind the axiom which says that all arts are daughters of the same mother.

Ahmed Mukhtar is an artist whose name has become associated with Oud since he devoted all his brilliant talent to it and to do research on a variety of themes related to Maqams of Arabic music., which he meets during his work and which he treats with different approaches. He gave much to music and to his instrument, that he nourishes with his experimental style that proved to be technical and fruitful.

In an article published recently about Mukhtar and his music, by Mike Steward the musical critic in which he presented a fair analyses of Mukhtar’s music in general, he mentioned a number of elements characteristic to Mukhtar’s music. Here are some of them : Silence, the abundance of details (in playing) transparency and at last the high elasticity of his fingers. These are some features of Mukhtar’s music that Mike Steward thinks that Mukhtar has achieved to the point of excellency, sometimes.

We should realize that what seems bright today, might not be the same in the future, this gloomy vision often has a great impact on the feelings of poets, artists and musicians, though the latter might be more apt to that melancholic effect that the depth of impact on his feelings always evades the probe of our prediction. Mukhtar’s music which enjoyed a strong presence in the evening challenged us with such feelings, especially when a big poet like Adonis and a famous artist like Said Amin were present which caused his music to flow deeply and passionately in a way with which we should stop to re-evaluate this instrument and it’s potential energy which Mukhtar is trying to release beyond any limits.

The music of Oud became an important human and cultural creative feature since the coming of Munir Bashir who was one the prominent composers of the Iraqi school of Oud, to Ahmed Mukhtar who remained faithful to the traditions of that school though he is not the only offspring of it, but he is the most distinguished one due to what his music is capable of adding to it. His music that tempts our steps to enter into worlds never visited before, is packed with beautiful visions which beckon for us to come closer, teaching us that the present moment, and the moment to come is verily more beautiful than the one preceding it, as if he was quoting Al-Naffari the great Moslem Sufi’s saying that *The most beautiful things are not born yet *

When his high technique of playing lead us into the world of his music that tunes our feelings to a generous vision painted with harmonic colours, we feel as if our best words leave the custody of our tongues to enrich our minds with deep meanings that come to us borne on the wings of high transparency.

Adonis the contoverversial Arab poet who’s been translated to many languages and who has been playing a central role on the stage of Arabic culture and art during his literary career by creating unprecedented trends in the movement of modern Arabic poetry is beyond my praises, but once more I say that we need to stop long before Mukhtar’s music to reappreciate the Arabic music. I think that music in general is not a priority for the Arab intellectual because there is a comparatively smaller room for it in the area of his attention, though he undoubtedly has the natural feelings and taste to appreciate subtle music like other creative arts such as poetry, novel and plastic arts because they cross each other as Goethe put it.

This poor attention the Arab intellectual had paid for music made it difficult for deep, subtle music to be considered equal to other creative works, but listening today to Mukhtar’s music, and probably others, signalizes the end of this attitude.

Adonis read some of the poems he wrote in the seventies, that still embrace the present Arabic situation which excited the Arabic and Swiss audience who were eager to hear more . Works of Said Amin on the other hand needs deeper analysis of his style in dealing with colour and movement in his paintings, towards the end Mukhtar played some pieces improvised on the spur of the moment which engaged the attention of the Swiss and the Arab audience who were applauding for him very warmly.

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Mukhtar at British Musical Magazines:

British Musical Magazines:
Source: British Musical Magazines:

The Independet: Ahmed Mukhtar: Sound of Baghdad (Interview)

Mukhtar at British Musical Magazines:
Rhythms of Baghdad
Seductive Oud and Percussion music from an Iraqi duo.
Songlines Magazine (May/July 2003)
By: BILL Badley.
British Mag.There’s particular Poignancy about reviewing any CD of Iraqi music at the present time. Since the middle ages, Baghdad has been revered as one of the undisputed centres of Arab music, though it’s difficult to know exactly what the situation is for the musicians there at the moment.
There are however, a number of extremely fine Iraqi performers more readily accessible to western audiences and two of them have come together to make this interesting CD.
There has been a trend for Oud (lute) players to make solo recordings, but on this disc the Oud is supported by a percussionist, as is common in live performance. The structure of Sattar Al-Saadi’s subtly muscular rhythms allows Ahmed mukhtar’s oud-playing the freedom to wave and beckon seductively.
Consequently, even very simple tunes, like the traditional ‘Souq Baghdadi’ and the Persian Gulf Style ‘Nada’a al bahr’ keep the ear entranced. Classical Arab music has never been a closed shop and often freely borrowed from neighbouring styles. Mukhtar and al-saadi continue this magpie tradition with varying levels of success: the flamenco-tinged ‘Espania’ veers towards cliché but the inventive, and very contemporary, improvisation of ‘Muntasaf -al-lilis a fine example of modern Arab Art Music.
The recorded sound is beautifully warm and the individual timbres of the various percussion instruments are particularly well captured- al- saadi’s rhythms will probably gat sampled and looped to death.

Rhythms of Baghdad:
By Ahmed Mukhtar and Sattar Al-Saadi
An album of homage to Iraq’s ancient traditions
NEXUS Magazine (April/May 2003)
Reviewed by Richard Giles

Ahmed Mukhtar and Sattar Al-Saadi live outside Iraq-a reflection on the situation in their home country but have collected traditional music from older style Baghdad ancestral musical lines.
Ahmed performs on the Oud (pear shaped, short lute, and Sattar is a percussionist, using the tabla, riqq, khishba, tar and other drums, and also plays the nay (Arab reed flute). An album of homage to Iraq’s ancient traditions-, which we pray won’t be bombed into oblivion in the future.

Rhythms of Baghdad:
A good music seem to jump out of time and place
Taplas Magazine (April/May 2003)
By: Rob Smith

The Syrian maqams are various recordings compiled from the collections of Deben Bhattacharya, the relentless documenter of little heard musics from all over Asia, whose work I have talked about previously. Informal recordings with small audiences typify the man’s recorded archive and are again in evidence here. The maqam is the pan -Arabic system of modes and melodic patterns collated from extensive research into practice by eighth century Syrian musicologist Ibn Misjah.
The standard description of maqam as a system of modes and melodic types always make them sound terribly restrictive (as can similar description of the related raga system of India and the Persian dastgahs). Hearing the music can, on first acquaintance with their solo manifestation, confirm this, but it rewards careful, repeated listening and the subtlety of expression from within the system sounds like exploration of a small musical space, almost a search for self, like a prayer.
When listening to ensemble renditions, however, one is quickly caught up in the ecstatic repetitive statements over driving percussion. The ensemble music here is concentrated on the second half of the disc. Those who find the solo work heavy going should make straight for tracks six and seven to get an accessible route into this refined and highly cultured musical offering.
The album from Baghdad, played significantly here by two exiles, comprises more contemporary and better-recorded pieces by an oud and percussion duet. The percussionist, al saadi, either has extra hands or some tasteful overdubbing has been used to give richer percussive backdrops. These texture seem to free up Mukhtar to do some really spacious playing, much of which is a delight.
The comparison with the music of the Songhai project (musicians from Spain and Mali) is very striking and should wake up those who still believe that Spain’s guitar traditions were brought in by Gypsies! One track is even called Espania.
The structures and tonalities here are closer to western scales and forms, with discernible rondos and variations and sometimes heads and improvisations familiar to any jazz listener. At other times one can hear similarities with American bluegrass. Isn’t that a strange Juxtaposition. At other times they remind me of Gismonti/valascocelos duo, but then good music always seem to jump out of time and place, doesn’t it?
This is definitely a very classy collection. The last four tracks are percussion solos that almost sound as if they are aimed squarely at sample bandits. If, like me you are lucky enough to have a home to live in, let this ring through your abode, while you ponder the injustices and complexities of the world we live in.

Rhythms of Baghdad Mukhtar can make it dream, gallop, or thunder, and he uses silence to great effect.
The Independent on Sunday/23 March 2003
Michael Church -have been Send

Oud player Ahmed Mukhtar and percussionist Sattar Al-Saadi are Iraqi émigrés who are now passing on their musical skills to students in London and Amsterdam: this new record is their timely assertion of Iraqi traditional music’s timeless beauties. Mukhtar was taught by Munir Bashir, who was the greatest oud player of the 20th century and whose maqam- based style traced its lineage back to Iraq’s musical golden age. A millennium ago, Baghdad was the musical capital of the civilised world: it was where Arab-Islamic music theory was codified before spreading west to Spain, and those codifications are still observed in Mukhtar’s practice. The unfretted oud may be the hardest of all instruments to play, with its delicately flattened intervals, but Mukhtar extracts magic: he can make it dream, gallop, or thunder, and he uses silence to great effect.

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The Soldier’s Tale

Natasha TripneySoldr cKerin

 The Soldier’s Tale
Old Vic, London, 26 January – 4 February 2006

actors

Deaa Al Deen
Falah Al Flayeh
Julian Glover
Martin Marquez
Ciaran McMenamin
Ala’a Rasheed

حكاية جند

musicians

Sattar Alsaadi
Henry Baldwin
Alex Caldon
Diego Conti
Rory Dempsey
Hassan Falih
Shakir Hassan
Claire Hawkes
Adam Mackenzie
Miguel Tantos

directed by
Andrew Steggall
It had the potential to be fascinating. Using a company of European and Iraqi performers, Andrew Steggall’s the Motion Group reinterpreted the 1918 Stravinsky-Ramuz musical fable for a modern audience using a mixture of both English and Arabic. The piece promised to speak of the universality of story-telling and shed light on the current conflict in Iraq. The reality, however, never quite achieved these goals.
That’s not to say there weren’t things to enjoy in the Old Vic production, it’s just that the concept ultimately proved more interesting than the execution.

The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a Faustian pact: a homebound soldier trades his cherished violin for a book that contains the secrets to infinite wealth. But, as is the way of these things, his newly acquired possession brings him nothing but trouble and loss.

The action unfolds bilingually: the three main roles, of soldier, devil and narrator, played by two actors each – one speaking Arabic, the other English. The constant switching from one language to the other meant that the drama unfolded sluggishly and the music failed to fully bind both halves together.

The Stravinsky-Ramuz narrative has been translated by the Iraqi poet Abdulkareem Kasid and the British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz (whose previous work includes last year’s Shoreditch Madonna). The English sections felt somewhat forced, full of heavy-handed rhymes that proved rather distancing, especially when issued in Julian Glover’s clipped Jackonory tones. It’s impossible to say whether the Arabic portion suffered similarly, however the woman who was sitting next to me – who was fluent in both languages – informed me that the Arabic sections were not just direct translations but rather that they complimented and built upon the English. To fully appreciate this bilingual production, it seems – quite obviously I suppose – that helps to be bilingual oneself.

There are some strong performances on display, particularly from Julian Glover and Falah Al Flayeh, the two narrators, whose contrasting styles compliment each other. Jon Bausor’s sand-strewn set is effectively atmospheric and the music contains moments of subtle beauty. For all that, it remains difficult to grasp what this production was trying to achieve. The politics of the piece felt rather muddled; any notions of corruption were too vague too apply to the current situation in Iraq.

Though there were moments when the production conveyed the ambitious and well-intentioned yet ultimately unrealistic feel of a theatre studies A level project – and when the two soldiers, Ciaran McMenamin and Ala’a Rasheed, seemed to flounder under the weight of the complicated narrative – The Soldier’s Tale pulled itself together in the final half hour, building towards a dark and engaging finale.

It wasn’t quite enough to save a work that, for all its flaws, was clearly the result of a lot of time, thought and passion. Steggall’s production’s main failing is that it tries to do too much; still its motives are admirable and if The Soldier’s Tale paves the way for similarly ambitious creative collaborations it can only be a good thing.

The road to Baghdad in global rhythms magazine

World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa-The Road To Baghdad: New Maqams From Iraq
ARC
22 September 2005 – By Stacy Meyn
Source: Global Rhythm Magazine

Globl RhythmDespite the nightly news indicating otherwise, there are good things that have come from Baghdad. For over a quarter century, Baghdad-born Ahmed Mukhtar has performed on the oud as well as Arabic percussion. He studied with masters Ganim Hadad and Jameel Jerjis, gradated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, and did time in Arabic orchestras. Mukhtar’s specialty is the recital of the Iraqi maqam. In Arabic music, a maqam (plural: maqamat) is a set of connected notes with its nearest Western classical music equivalent being a mode (such as major or minor). The Road To Baghdad celebrates Mukhtar’s skill on an unfretted instrument deemed difficult to play. Joined by renowned Iraqi musicians, he unfailingly delivers stunning performances of maqamat, which additionally translate to “suites.” There is also the taqsim (plural: taqasim), which is essentially freestyle, and offers spirited interpretation of classic Iraqi songs. The UN recently selected Mukhtar and nearly 20 other world musicians to create a music CD to benefit terrorism victims